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Monday, October 24, 2016
Film: Avatar
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This  fantastic-looking 3D sci-fi adventure combines extraordinary special effects with a quite old-fashioned story.

Set 145 years from now, the story centres around paraplegic ex-Marine Jake Sully (Sam Worthington), who is sent to planet Pandora to work with American security forces and scientists who want to mine  precious mineral deposits they have discovered there. The project's bullet-headed head of security, Col Miles Quaritch (Stephen Lang), promises to get Jake's legs repaired in exchange for military intelligence.

Together with botanist Grace (Sigourney Weaver), Jake  also has the task of  'winning the hearts and minds' of the indigenous population - the blue-skinned Na'vi  who resemble a cross between giant humans and upright lemurs. They're feral and prone to hissing like cats, but also have a serene, deeply 'spiritual' side,  worshipping the spirits of their ancestors at a huge sacred tree and a goddess whose energy somehow links them all together.

Using cutting-edge technology, Jake  controls a genetically engineered Na'vi avatar with his own consciousness. Under the guidance of a princess named Neytiri (Zoe Saldana), this surrogate joins the Na'vi clan who live in a village above the richest mineral deposit.

As Jake undergoes a number of initiations into Na'vi culture he falls in love with Neytiri and finds himself torn between her people and his own rapacious species.

The film has a clear ’green’ message and is also strong in its reminder of the destructive realities of colonial and imperialist attitudes - with echoes of Dances With Wolves, The Killing Fields and even the Mission. 

But Cameron's strongest storytelling tools are the special effects. With his legion of computer technicians and artists he has designed a breathtaking world, replete with fluorescent flowers, floating mountains, and fierce creatures resembling prehistoric rhinos, flying dragons,  panthers, dogs, horses and raptors. The  3D battle scenes are very  dark and violent - not for the faint-hearted or anyone suffering from vertigo.

Although I did enjoy the hugely imaginative spectacle, overall I found the film a little exhausting and quite long - it goes on for nearly three hours. My 16-year-old nephew has seen it twice  with his friends and plans to go again soon - so it clearly has an appeal for younger audiences.

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Tags: Avatar, James Cameron

Members Opinions:
January 07, 2010 at 12:41pm
Fr Joseph Caramazza sent this comment:

Dear Madam,

I read your brief critique of Avatar. I do share some of your insights; still I believe there is more in Avatar than meets the eye.

If one looks at the film for its special affects, then Avatar is clearly one of the best movies produced lately. If one looks at the embodied messages, a more serious critique is called for. Many of the behaviours of the Na’vi are copied from southern African cultures (the greeting ‘I see you’ is common among the Shona and related ethnic groups; praying over a killed prey, whispering words in its hears, is common amongst the Bushman and other groups of the Pygmy family; the idea of Mother Earth is common among many hunter gatherer groups; etc.). Any interested student would realize that entire sections were taken from anthropology 1.1 text-books. So far so good.

The movie gets it really wrong when it gives too clear cut definitions. If opposition of characters is a good cinematic technique, it is also dangerous. Good against evil will always the underlining theme in this kind of movies, to make characters only good and only evil is misleading. Some of the ideas portrayed in Avatar are now common in society, and so the public is ready to accept them in the movie, and the movie reinforces their belief.

What we have here is a group of people living in total communion with nature, they are the good guys. The others, the human, the colonizers, see only profit and do not care for life. How does a human become ‘good’? Simple, it is enough to become a Na’vi (which of course, any Hollywood actor can do in just six months – while the rest of us who went through a process of initiation in a new culture usually find it to be a life-long experience!).

So salvation from our human nature comes through a profound change. One is to empty himself of his being human and become new, totally different from human. This is a contradictory statement. Salvation would seem possible only to a few elected people (one needs an Avatar, which is not sold at Tesco, and the technology that only a few can master) and so the rest of us will have to remain greedy humans.

To be good means to return to Mother Earth (like the Aboriginals, the Amerindians and the Pygmies deep in the Congolese forest). These are the good examples. People who live in idyllic symbiosis with nature. Too bad that few are ready to find out if this is really true or not. (Please do not be anxious about the answer, I assure you that this Mother Nature stuff is not true. But it is conveniently true for New Age groups).

Avatar is spectacular, I enjoyed it. Yet, it remains a dangerous movie. I believe it should not be banned, but at least we could ask the audience to be aware of the manipulation, of the omnipresent religion without personal commitment, without God, without morality linked to personal choices, typical of Hollywood movies.

It could also be time that Christian communicators ask themselves what can they do to embed Christian values and proposals in their production (which many already do) and become firmly part of the mainstream information/entertainment world (which we are still far from). The creators of Avatar have a right to propose their models, so do we. Perhaps we shall not be able to produce something so spectacular, yet we should find ways to be more prominent and able to propose our view.

Fr. Joseph Caramazza

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